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Oil Changes & Other Fluids

Reality Check

    Just imagine if...

    1) we could drain and refill the fluids in our bodies,

    2) we had a replaceable blood filter which trapped germs and harmful bacteria,

    3) we had another changeable filter which trapped all the dirt and pollutants from the air we breathe and

    4) there were supplements we could take guaranteeing a longer life.

    How great would that be?!

    What is great, is that you can do that for your car or truck. The big questions of course are:

    1) "How often do I really need to change my oil, other fluids & filters?"

    2) "Will my engine really live longer if I add supplements to the oil & fluids?"

Our recommendations from 29 years of servicing over 87,000 vehicles

    Oil Change Service:

    We've had lots of questions in recent weeks on 'What's the truth on oil change intervals? When should I change my oil?"

    We just had in our shop a 2003 Audi A4 with 60,000 miles that had chronic low oil pressure. After diagnosis, we removed the oil pan and found the oil pump pickup clogged with sludge. The owner had followed the manufacturer's recommended oil change intervals, which wasn't enough to prevent engine damage.

    We also just fixed a EuroVan that wouldn't accelerate. The Dealer diagnosed a worn out camshaft chain, but wouldn't guarantee that would fix the problem. Turns out that the mechanical device that adjusts the camshaft timing had been gummed up ( think clogged arteries) by following the manufacturers oil change intervals. After cleaning the goo out of the passageways, and reseting the computer value blocks (repair facilities must have computers to do any vehicle maintenance!) the vehicle performed normally. Changing oil is like taking vitamins or eating properly, problems don't show up for years, and then it is too later.

    Keep these facts in mind when deciding when to change your oil (and who should do them):

    1) Auto Dealers make money by selling cars. Independent auto repair shops make money by working on cars, we want you to keep your car forever.

    2) There has been no basic change to engine technology in 100 years, they are still internal combustion engines with metal crank and rod bearings, head gaskets, small oil passageways which can clog just like your heart can on a fast food diet, and combustion which produces carbon that can ultimately find it's way into the oil. The only basic change to oil technology has been the introduction of synthetic oil (which does not drastically change an engine's need for oil changes (we recommend oil changes at maximum 6000 mile intervals when using synthetic oil).

    3) Recommended oil change intervals greater than 3000 miles (or 6000 with synthetic oil), will harm your engine and are based on marketing not technology. In 1977 the Federal government passed a bill called The 1976 Cost Savings Act. This act mandated that the auto manufacturers extend service intervals. Oil filters that had been recommended to be changed at 3000 mile intervals, now were to be replaced at 5,000, 10,000 and even 15,000 miles, and the same for Fuel and Air filters. Once the auto manufacturers saw the marketing potential of lower cost of maintenance and lower automobile life expectancy, maintenance became a part of the marketing department.

    4) If you want to keep your car in good shape, change your oil!. Everybody has an opinion on oil change intervals. We have more than an opinion, we have observed that those vehicles which have had regular 3000 mile oil change intervals last longer, period. 87000 vehicles in 29 years have proven to us that 3000 mile oil change intervals are best, not laboratory results, real world results.

    What about the new electronic oil change computers? If you want to keep your vehicle healthy, if you want to keep your vehicle longer than 5 years, try to change the oil every 3000 miles.

    P.A.T. recommends regular oil change services (not just an oil & filter change) at 3000 mile intervals. Most people are well intentioned and try hard to meet that interval. In reality it becomes a 5000 mile interval. This is human nature. We are all busy people. Beyond 7500 miles, sludge begins to build up in your engine, clogging its internal oil passage ways, we see this over and over again, even with synthetic oil. Clogged oil passage ways restricts oil flow, which results ultimately in engine failure. If you want to keep your vehicle longer than the warranty period, change your oil! Changing your oil is cheaper than changing your vehicle.

    Synthetic Oil provides a benefit to certain engine types and driving styles. It should be considered a way to lengthen the interval to a maximum of 6000 miles.

    A professional technician can look at your vehicle and tell if your oil changes have been adequate. A car that is driven 200 miles a day on the expressway has different oil change needs than a car driven 200 miles a month in the city. This is why it is important to discuss your vehicle's needs with 1) a professional technician (NOT a service advisor) and 2) the professional technician who has actually worked on your vehicle.

    Improve your gas mileage

    Fuel Injection systems, specifically fuel injectors, can become plugged or partially plugged by contaminants in fuel. Cheap fuel is especially susceptible to contamination. With gas prices what they are, do beware. Your fuel injection system should be flushed every 30,000 miles. F.I. flushes also remove carbon buildup in the cylinder head itself. A quality F.I. flush will (a) improve your engine's performance, (b) lower exhaust pollutants and (c) improve your gas mileage. Unfortunately we have been seeing an increase in inferior fuel injection flushes. It is important for the life of your engine to have a F.I. flush performed by a professional who has the technology available to handle your type of fuel injection. One size does not fit all.

    A clean fuel filter improves gas mileage as well. It should be replaced regularly at a maximum of 30,000 miles.

    Brake Fluid keeps you safe

    Brake fluid by nature is 'hygroscopic'; meaning it attracts water. Water in brake fluid is harmful, causing internal brake components to rust, and also lowers your effective braking ability. For optimum braking power your fluid should be flushed every two years.

    Brake fluid should not simply be topped up. It does not evaporate. A low fluid level indicates a leak or worn brake components, both serious conditions and a message to you that brake repairs are needed. If you are asked, "Would you like your fluids topped?" specifically request not my brake fluid. If your brake fluid is low or your brake fluid light is on, consult a professional technician.

    Radiator Antifreeze is cool

    Antifreeze, also called coolant, typically needs to be diluted 50-50 with water. Coolant not only prevents your engine's cooling system from freezing, it also helps keep it cool in warm weather, and coolant lubricates your vehicle's water pump. Over the last few years auto manufacturers have developed several new coolant concoctions. P.A.T. stocks them all. For optimum effectiveness your coolant needs to be changed every 2 to 3 years. We do not recommend "falling for" advertised lifetime antifreeze. Our Service Manger, who is a professional technician, not just a 'service advisor', and the technician who actually works on your vehicle, can advise you on the particular needs of your vehicle.

    Automatic Transmission fluid: Keep the 'goo' out

    Many automobile manufacturers are now recommending that you never replace your automatic transmission fluid, even though the same transmission and fluid in a previous year they recommended a service interval. So what's going on? Many consumer groups rate vehicles by the vehicles 'Maintenance Cost', obviously the less manufacturer recommended maintenance, the less cost, and higher rating!! Manufacturer recommended maintenance is now the MDA (Minimum Daily Requirements) for vehicles. Want a 'Healthy' Car? Listen to the advice of your Professional Technician. Independent Repair facilities want you to have a healthy and safe vehicle, and keep it forever (which also adds to it's resale value).

    We recommend having your transmission fluid changed every 30,000 miles, with 60,000 miles being the absolute maximum. However, if you have not had an automatic transmission service in over 120,000 miles, Don't! A neglected transmission is mostly 'goo'. When new fluid is flushed into a trans, it will clean out all that 'goo' and may cause shifting problems or worse yet, trans failure.

    Manual Transmission Fluid is good-to-go

    Under normal circumstances manual transmission fluid does not need to be changed.

Knowledge is a good thing

    In 1977 the US government mandated that all auto manufacturers must lengthen service intervals. This law was not based on technology but on politics. Consequently automakers stretched recommended oil change and service intervals based on that law. New marketing schemes followed.

    Manufacturers have classified two types of driving, (a) 'normal', being mostly expressway driving and (b) 'severe', meaning mostly city driving. Over the past few years there has been an explosion of engine failures (inclusive of all manufacturers). Insufficient oil changes is the issue and a testimony to the problem. Similar to the government's recommended minimum daily requirements for us, the automakers' recommendation for oil change intervals and maintenance services have become only minimum requirements, just enough to get your vehicle through the warranty period. A dealer's goal and profit comes from selling you a new car or truck, not having you drive one for 200,000 miles.

    Consumer Beware

    The state of Michigan in 1974 enacted the Motor Vehicle Registration and Repair Act, to provide consumer protection including a mediation service for disputes between consumers and auto repair facilities. All businesses that provide auto repair services must be registered and its mechanics must be state certified. Those not covered by the law perform specific services, e.g. oil changes. This means the vast majority of quick oil change places are not registered auto repair facilities. The workers are typically not certified mechanics. If they make recommendations to consumers they are violating state law. When services are performed on your vehicle at such businesses, you lose protections provided to consumers by the State of Michigan.

    The Gut Level Truth

    To be blunt, quick oil change businesses are as good for your vehicle as Fast Food is for your body. Their employees' automotive experience is often minimal, with little understanding of how today's vehicle systems function. Unfortunately, the ramifications of their efforts are seen by our technicians all too often, stripped oil pan drain threads, no oil pan drain seal, air filter incorrectly installed ...